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Ford Plants to Boost Use of Carbon Fiber

Lightweight material could play major role in tomorrow’s cars.

by on Apr.20, 2015

The new Ford GT makes extensive us of carbon fiber.

When Ford’s new GT supercar makes its way into production next year it will make extensive use of super-light carbon fiber.

Until now, advanced composites have had only limited application in the auto industry because of their cost and the manufacturing challenges they pose. But as part of a new joint venture, Ford says it hopes to find ways to put carbon fiber into more mainstream applications going forward.

We're no Lightweight!

“Automotive manufacturers’ use of carbon fiber composites has been hindered by the absence of both high-volume manufacturing methods and affordable material formats,” said Mehmet Ali Berkman, vice chairman of DowAska, which is itself a partnership of Dow Chemical and the Turkish firm Aksa Akrilik Kimya Sanayii.

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Ford Unveils Ultra-Light Fusion Sedan Concept

Prototype could influence future Fusion and other models.

by on Jun.04, 2014

Ford's Lightweight Concept could foretell changes to come in the maker's line-up.

When Ford’s new F-150 pickup comes to market later this year it will shed as much as 700 pounds, a move that is expected to yield significant improvements in both performance and fuel economy. And now, the automaker is hinting it has even more aggressive plans in mind for a future version of its popular midsize model, the Fusion.

The Detroit maker is showing off a new, super-light version of the sedan that makes use of aluminum and other materials to drop a full 800 pounds compared to the current Fusion. And though there are no immediate plans to put the prototype into production, it will influence future product development programs.

What a Concept!

Part of Ford’s so-called Blueprint for Sustainability, the project reflects a growing focus on lightweighting, the auto industry’s way of saying that vehicles have to go on a diet if manufacturers hope to meet the tough new fuel economy standards coming into effect in the U.S. over the next decade, as well as stiffer CO2 emissions rules in Europe. The good news for consumers is that by reducing weight a vehicle like the Fusion won’t necessarily have to be downsized to achieve significant improvements in mileage.

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BMW and Partner Will Triple Production of Carbon Fiber

Big plans for lightweight material.

by on May.09, 2014

BMW's i8 plug-in hybrid sports car is one of several models making extensive use of carbon fiber.

BMW and its partner SGL Automotive plan to triple their production of carbon fiber, a lightweight, but traditional expensive, material that many believe could be crucial to meeting future emissions and mileage mandates – and to making battery-electric vehicles, such as the BMW i3 and i8, more acceptable to consumers.

A number of automakers, including Toyota and General Motors, have been looking for ways to both lower the cost of, while also expanding production of, carbon fiber.

The Last Word!

But BMW has one of the most ambitious programs underway with SGL’s assistance, the partners operating plants in both Moses Lake, Washington and in Germany. The U.S. plant will now benefit from an additional investment of $200 million and is expected to become the world’s larger producer of carbon fiber reinforced plastics, or CFRP.

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BMW Has Big(ger) Plans for its High-Performance M Brand

Maker also hopes to see extensive use of fuel-saving carbon fiber technology.

by on May.24, 2012

Expect an M version of the new BMW Gran Coupe, the maker's U.S. CEO tells TheDetroitBureau.com.

Even as it gets set to launch sales of its new M6 model, BMW is looking at ways to further expand its  high-performance brand-within-a-brand, a senior executive told TheDetroitBureau.com.

Once limited to a handful of limited-production offerings, BMW now offers M versions of more than half of its line-up – with several key omissions, including the flagship 7-Series, but that may soon change, noted Ludwig Willisch, CEO of the maker’s North American sales subsidiary.

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Willisch said he also expects the maker to eventually make extensive use of strong and lightweight carbon fiber, perhaps even in such models as BMW’s best-seller, the 3-Series.

The German executive was in Santa Barbara for the first U.S. media drive of BMW’s new M6 and Gran Coupe models.  The latter is a 4-door version of the maker’s classic coupe, the 6-Series – and intended to go up against the likes of the Audi A7 and Mercedes-Benz CLS.

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Mini Exploring Carbon Fiber Applications with Rocketman Concept

Show car makes extensive use of weight-saving composites.

by on Mar.03, 2011

The Mini Rocketman concept uses a strong, super-light carbon fiber spaceframe.

Mini’s newest concept vehicle could help it rocket into the future by showing the brand the potential for ultra-lightweight carbon fiber.

The Mini Rocketman concept vehicle, unveiled at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show is nearly the smallest vehicle the British maker has ever come up with, just inches longer than the original Mini crafted by Sir Alex Issigonis a half century ago.  But it’s also a very different and much more modern vehicle, company officials stressed.

There is the high-tech infotainment system that has become the requisite on today’s show cars.  But perhaps more significantly, the Mini Rocketman uses a carbon spaceframe to keep the vehicle small, light and roomy.

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“It captures the spirit of originality” pioneered by Sir Alex, proclaimed Ian Robertson, the BMW AG Board Member who also supervises Mini sales and marketing, during the British marque’s Geneva news conference. (For more on the Mini Rocketman itself, Click Here.)

In a subsequent interview with TheDetroitBureau.com, Robertson emphasized the interest of both Mini and BMW in the use of carbon fiber.  The German parent company has, in fact, has “invested heavily” in recent years to improve the technology and expand its production.

The Lamborghini Aventador also goes with carbon fiber for its underlying monocoque.

The material “has a number of elements” that are attractive, including its tremendous strength – many times greater than steel, pound-for-pound – and light weight.  That’s particularly attractive for Mini, a brand that has put an emphasis on sustainability.

That said, Robertson cautioned that carbon fiber is still extremely expensive to produce, which may make it difficult to introduce in the relatively mainstream price segments where Mini competes.

Indeed, today, carbon fiber is largely limited to some of the most expensive products on the road, such as the all-new, $350,000 Lamborghini Aventador, which also was introduced at the 2011 Geneva Motor Show (Find out more – Click Here.) Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winklemann told TheDetroitBureau.com that cost considerations likely limit the use of carbon fiber on other Lamborghini products.

But the spate of research underway has some experts betting that carbon fiber can move down-market in the coming years.  Toyota, for example, has been exploring ways to use the company’s historical ties to the textile industry to “weave” carbon fiber, instead of using traditional hand-production processes.  And BMW is also making strides towards mass production.

What could drive demand for the material is the industry’s move into electrification.  Vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt carry 100s of pounds of lithium-ion batteries onboard, and carbon fiber, said BMW’s Robertson, may be needed “as a trade-off to offset heavy batteries. Carbon fiber,” he concluded, “has a significant role to play in the development of motor vehicles in the future.”

SGL and BMW to Build Carbon Fiber Plant In U.S.

Mass production of carbon fiber parts is an ambitious goal.

by on Apr.06, 2010

BMW intends to use expensive light weight materials in future "Megacity" vehicles.

SGL Group and BMW Group today announced today that their joint venture, SGL Automotive Carbon Fibers LLC, would build a carbon fiber manufacturing plant in Moses Lake, Washington.

During the initial phase, $100 million will be invested and 80 local jobs will be created.

The new facility is part of a strategy to commercialize the manufacturing of ultra light weight carbon-fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) for use in future vehicles. Right now CFRP is only used in ultra-expensive supercars, and the hand layup processes are glacially slow and defect prone.

However, as both carbon dioxide and fuel efficiency standards tighten all auto makers are looking to build lighter weight vehicles to increase fuel efficiency. Light weight is particularly appealing for electric vehicles because it decreases the demand on very expensive lithium ion battery packs thereby increasing range.

The fibers manufactured at Moses Lake will be used in  BMW Group’s upcoming Megacity vehicle – a new small car for urban mobility. Megacity is set to be launched before 2015 under the  Mini brand, and will be assembled in Leipzig, Germany.

Also known as project-i, the Megacity program will eventually produce both electric and internal combustion engine vehicles. CFRP is a relatively strong lightweight material but it has been considered too expensive for mass applications. CFRP also requires sophisticated design and analysis tools so that vehicles with it meet safety regulations, particularly crash standards. (more…)

BMW and SGL Form Carbon Fiber Joint Venture

Goal to produce advanced “Megacity Vehicle” in next decade.

by on Oct.29, 2009

BMW has formed a new joint venture aimed at producing future "Megacity Vehicles," like this concept.

BMW has formed a new joint venture aimed at producing future "Megacity Vehicles," like this high-mileage concept.

BMW has formed a joint venture with SGL Group aimed at developing and producing carbon fiber, a strong yet super-light material that the German automaker plans to use to build its so-called Megacity Vehicle.

Key to the $133 million venture is transforming carbon fiber from a high-cost specialty material used only in the most expensive, limited-volume supercars and making it competitively priced for mass market products, the new partners noted.

BMW announced the Megacity project at its annual meeting, last March.  Targeted for production sometime during the first half of the next decade, CEO Norbert Reithofer described it as “the first of a range of near-zero emission vehicles.”  Also known as project-i, Reithofer said the Megacity program would produce both electric vehicles and those with highly efficient internal combustion engines.

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The first Megacity Vehicle is the battery-powered Mini-E prototype, of which BMW is currently planning to build and field test 500.  Eventually, such models could show up in the various BMW AG brands, including not only Mini but also BMW and possibly even Rolls-Royce.  Reithofer ruled out adding a new brand to the group.

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